Thursday, August 07, 2014

Big changes at ComAgri

With the extension of co-decision to agricultural policy by the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee has become a much more important player in the decision-making process. It has tended to contain MEPs from agricultural and rural constituencies, or with interests in the sector, and in that sense has sometimes been a brake on reform, with the chair in 2009-14 insisting that the CAP budget be maintained in real terms with more money for farmers and more flexibility on how they spent this publicly funded largesse: Handouts

The committee's composition in the new Parliament has changed substantially, creating more uncertainty about its stance, although it will be chaired by the centre-right EPP. ComAgri’s political breakdown is based on the election results. The European People’s Party (EPP) came first so gets 13 of the 45 seats, with the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) next with nine seats and the other groups getting between three and five each.

A number of old hands who played key ComAgri roles in 2009-2014 are back, including former chair Paolo De Castro (S&D), Albert Dess (EPP) and Jim Nicholson (ECR). Notable absentees include ALDE’s George Lyon and the S&D’s Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos.

Of the 45 new ComAgri members, 23 were re-elected to the Parliament, of whom 20 sat on ComAgri in 2009-2014. New to ComAgri but not to the Parliament are Portugal’s Nuno Melo (EPP), the UK’s Richard Ashworth (ECR) and Dane Jens Rohde (ALDE). The other 22 are newly-elected to the Parliament. This reflects dramatic changes to the Parliament’s political make-up brought by the elections, with eurosceptic, anti-EU parties significantly increasing their MEP numbers – as well as some left-wing anti-EU parties.

The expanded Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group has increased its ComAgri representation from two to three MEPs. Back is Stuart Agnew from the UK’s Independence Party (UKIP), which wants the UK out of the EU altogether, but has a poor record of voting and committee attendance in the Parliament. UKIP's position is that UK farmers would then receive a version of what has been the Single Farm (to become Basic) Payment, but that it would be capped to limit the amount going to larger farmers, something the UK has always fought within the EU. Agnew is joined this time by Giulia Moi and Marco Zullo from Italy’s Five Star Movement – a populist party born out of a protest movement led by a comedian.

One of the three non-attached members, Edouard Ferrand, is from France’s far-right Front National, which increased its Parliament MEPs from three to 24. The FN is a critic of the CAP, lamenting the loss of control on farming decisions and arguing that the CAP has not helped agricultural earnings or done enough to protect French farming.

As for the Greens/EFA group, outspoken French MEP José Bové and German Martin Häusling are joined by new MEPs Bronis Ropé from Lithuania and Jordi Sebastià Talavera from Spain’s Compromis party. Bové was once involved in physically dismantling a MacDonalds that had set up in a cheese producing region and is a staunch opponent of GM.

The left-wing alliance GUE-NGL has four brand new MEPs on ComAgri. Two from Ireland – Matt Carthy and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan – are joined by Antje Anna Helena Hazekamp from the Netherlands’ Party for the Animals (PvdD) and Spain’s María Lidia Senra Rodríguez. We might expect more attempts to pursue animal protection issues.

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